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The list of commentators, however, includes several other names besides those of the editors of the entire collection of Plays; in particular, Upton, in “Critical Observations,” 1746; Dr. Zachary Grey, in “Critical, Historical, and Explanatory Notes,” 1755; Heath, in “A Revisal of Shakespeare's Text,” 1765; Kenrick, in a “Review of Johnson's Edition,” 1765, and “Defence of Review,” 1766; Tyrwhitt, in “Observations and Conjectures,” 1766; Dr. Richard Farmer, in “Essay on the Learning of Shakespeare,” 1767; Charles Jennens, in annotated editions of “King Lear,” 1770, —“Macbeth,” 1773,-and “Julius Caesar,” 1774; John Monck Mason, in “Comments on the Last Edition of Shakespeare's Plays,” 1785, and “Further Observations,” 1798; A. Beckett, in “A Concordance to Shakespeare, to which are added three hundred Notes and Illustrations,” 1787; Ritson, in “The Quip Modest,” 1781, and “Cursory Criticisms,” 1792; Whiter, in “A Specimen of a Commentary,” 1794; George Chalmers, in “Apology for the Believers in the Shakespearian Papers,” 1797, and “Supplemental Apology,” 1799; Douce, in “Illustrations of Shakespeare and of Ancient Manners,” 1807; Reverend Joseph Hunter, in “Illustrations of the Life, Studies, and Writings of Shakespeare,” 1844; and Reverend Alexander Dyce, in “Remarks on Mr. Collier's and Mr. Knight's Editions,” 1844, and “A Few Notes on Shakespeare,” 1853. To these names and titles may be added the Reverend Samuel Ayscough’s “Index to the Remarkable Passages and Words made use of by Shakespeare,” 1790; “A Complete. Verbal Index to the Plays of Shakespeare,” in 2 vols., by Francis Twiss, Esq., 1805; and Mrs. Cowden Clarke's “Complete Concordance to Shakspere,” 1847. Finally, there may be mentioned Archdeacon Nares's “Glossary of Words, etc., thought to require Illustration in Shakespeare and his Contemporaries,” 1822.
W. THE MODERN SHAKESPEARIAN TEXTS.
No modern editor has reprinted the Plays of Shakespeare exactly as they stand in any of the old Folios or Quartos. Neither the spelling, nor the punctuation, nor the words of any ancient copy have been retained unaltered, even with the correction of obvious errors of the Press. It has been universally admitted by the course that has been followed that a genuine text is not to be obtained without more or less of conjectural emendation: the only difference has been as to the extent to which it should be carried. The most recent texts, however, beginning with that of Malone, and more especially those of Mr. Knight and of Mr. Collier (in his eight volume edition), have been formed upon the principle of adhering to the original copies as closely as possible; and they have given us back many old readings which had been rejected by preceding editors. There has been some difference of opinion among editors of the modern school in regard to whether the preference should be given in certain cases to the First Folio or to some previous Quarto impression of the Play produced in the lifetime of the author; and Steevens latterly, in opposition to Malone, who had originally been his coadjutor, set up the doctrine that the Second Folio was a safer guide than the First. The latter heresy, however, has probably now been abandoned by everybody.
But, besides the correction of what are believed to be errors of the Press in the old copies, the text of Shakespeare has been subjected to certain modifications in all the modern reprints:— 1. The spelling has been reduced to the modern standard. The original spelling is certainly no part of the composition. There is no reason to believe that it is even Shakespeare's own spelling. In all probability it is merely that of the person who set up the types. Spenser may be suspected to have had some peculiar notions upon the subject of orthography; but, apparently, it was not a matter about which Shakespeare troubled himself. In departing from the original editions here, therefore, we lose nothing that is really his. 2. The actual form of the word in certain cases has been modernized. This deviation is not so clearly defensible upon principle, but the change is so slight, and the convenience and advantage so considerable, that it may fairly be held to be justifiable nevertheless on the ground of expediency. The case of most frequent occurrence is that of the word than, which with Shakespeare, as generally with his contemporaries and predecessors, is always then. “Greater then a king” would be intolerable to the modern ear. Then standing in this position is therefore quietly converted by all the modern editors into our modern than. Another form which was unquestionably part of the regular phraseology and grammar of his day is what is sometimes described as the conjunction of a plural nominative with a singular verb, but is really only a peculiar mode of inflecting the verb by which the plural is left undistinguished from the singular. Shakespeare and his contemporaries, although they more usually said, as we do, “words sometimes give offence,” held themselves entitled to say also, if they chose, “words sometimes gives offence.” But here again so much offence would be given by the antiquated phraseology to the modern ear, accustomed to such an apparent violation of concord only from the most illiterate lips, that the detrimental s has been always suppressed in the modern editions, except only in a few instances in which it happens to occur as an indispensable element of the rhyme—as when Macbeth, in his soliloquy before going in to murder the sleeping King (ii. 1) says, “Whiles I threat he lives: Words to the heat of deeds too cold breath gives;” or, as when Romeo says to Friar Lawrence (ii. 3),
“Both our remedies
A few contractions also, such as upon 't, on’s head, etc., which have now become too vulgarized for composition of any elevation, are usually neglected in constructing the modern text, and without any appreciable injury to its integrity.
3. In some few cases the editors have gone the length of changing even the word which Shakespeare may very possibly have written, or which may probably have stood in the manuscript put into the hands of the original printers, when it has been held to be palpably or incontrovertibly wrong. In Julius Cæsar, for instance (ii. 1), they have upon this principle changed “the first of March” into “the ides of March” (149), and afterwards “fifteen days” into “fourteen days” (154). It is evident, however, that alterations of this kind ought to be very cautiously made.
VI. THE MECHANISM OF ENGLISH VERSE, AND THE PROSODY OF THE PLAYS OF SHAKESPEARE.
The mechanism of verse is a thing altogether distinct from the music of verse. The one is matter of rule, the other of taste and feeling. No rules can be given for the production of music, or of the musical, any more than for the production of poetry, or the poetical. The law of the mechanical construction of verse is common to verse of every degree of musical quality, to the roughest or harshest (provided it be verse at all), as well as to the smoothest and sweetest. Music is not an absolute necessity of verse. There are cases in which it is not even an excellence or desirable ingredient. Verse is sometimes the more effective for being unmusical. The mechanical law or form is universally indispensable. It is that which constitutes the verse. It may be regarded as the substance; musical character, as the accident or ornament. In every language the principle of the law of verse undoubtedly lies deep in the nature of the language. In all modern European languages, at least, it is dependent upon the system of accentuation established in the language, and would probably be found to be modified in each case according to the peculiarities of the accentual system. In so far as regards these languages, verse may be defined to consist in a certain arrangement of accented and unaccented syllables. The Plays of Shakespeare are all, with the exception only of occasional couplets, in unrhymed or what is called Blank verse. This form of verse was first exemplified in English in a translation of the Fourth